Designer Ryan Korban has always been devoted to Instagram. An influencer himself (with some 137,000 followers), the 34-year-old New School graduate earned his success by designing flagship stores for high-fashion brands that were flooded with selfie-takers from the go. Using bold colors and “wow moments” such as a massive dome made of gold leaf for the Madison Avenue Aquazzura boutique, he lured lookie-loos and the design-curious off the street just to take photos to post to their feeds. “No one wants to design a store that people just walk past,” he says.
So when Broad Street Development asked him to imagine the interiors for 40 Bleecker in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood, Korban’s mind immediately turned to how his designs would look on social media. He started with a lobby whose lighting makes anyone look 10 years younger, then furnished it with two marble sofas and lush suede walls.
“It is all about over-the-top symmetry and graphic marbles—all of it meant to fit into a vertical frame that looks great on a cellphone,” he says.
Sales agents stationed in the lobby welcome visitors who just want to pose on those stone slabs. Never mind that the selfie-stick set may not be looking to purchase a condo in the 12-story building, whose one- to five-bedroom homes start at around $2 million, or whether they’re financially eligible.
“We are building a brand, and it deserves to get as many eyes on it as possible,” says Korban of his photo-friendly designs.
While Instagram remains the fastest-growing social media platform on the planet, with more than 100 million active users in the U.S. alone, real estate developers have been slow to embrace social media from the design phase of building. Many worry that photo-ready rooms that allow entrée to just anyone might cheapen their expensive product, while others simply don’t want wide-eyed out-of-towners hunting for real estate porn.
But savvy developers and architects are embracing the power of the platform to move product, and are baking creative moments into the design process—sometimes from the moment of construction. With the right Instagram-worthy photo op available to all, the thinking goes, a post just might influence a close.
Up at Aby Rosen’s 100 East 53rd Street, art is the focus of the Foster + Partners-designed building, where plenty of visitors and brokers pop by to take photos with the Rachel Feinstein work in the lobby and the blue-chip pieces from the developer’s private collection in the building’s model loft residence. Compass’s Leonard Steinberg is fine with prospective buyers posting images of themselves with the building’s hashtag (#100e53), and has seen some traction through random influencers.
“We have gotten some direct inquiries from social media posts—sometimes from agents, sometimes from buyers who ask their agent to see it,” Steinberg says of the Midtown residence, where studios start at $2.1 million.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s record-busting Quay Tower (the penthouse is in contract for more than $20 million, which stands to become the highest-priced sale ever in the New York borough) installed an Instagram pop-up station in its sales office. Wannabe selfie-takers step into a cartoon version of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and the developer has thoughtfully placed props for playful photo ops. (The photo is emailed to participants, in the process collecting contact information for future sales.)
Lower down the price-point totem pole, David Barry, president and chief executive officer of development firm Urby, knows his prospective tenants want enviable experiences to post on their Instagram feeds. So he thinks up photo-friendly spaces before construction begins. His Harrison Urby building in Harrison, N.J., where rentals start at around $2,000 for a studio, has a 30-foot-tall treehouse with a wall of braided rope in the common-area café. Anyone can come by for a latte and a snap.
“The combination of greenery, oak millwork, decorative lighting, and a multicolored, tiled floor creates the feeling of a tropical oasis in what is a historically industrial town,” says Barry, and when it’s flooded with selfie-takers, it gives the common space a lively energy.
His Staten Island Urby was conceived with the only commercial farm to be incorporated into a residential development in that borough; it grows more than 50 varieties of plants and vegetables, tended by a real farmer. (Is anything more Instagrammable than an urban farmer?)
Barry loves that his spaces have earned their own social media presence—@urbylife has nearly 16,000 followers—and he believes Instagram falls somewhere midway up the sales and marketing funnel, as renters work their way toward finding the perfect dwelling.
“I don’t think Instagram’s primary purpose is transactions, but it is a great way to promote brand awareness, and that may translate indirectly as transactions, eventually,” he says.
For him, slowly growing his Instagram presence through fun posts is better than any website. It’s a mosaic, he says, a composite over time that authentically expresses a building’s singular personality. Which is why Barry doesn’t bother much with hiring professional photographers to take stock shots. “Urby builds pretty, fun, quirky places for people to pose and post, then lets the process unfold organically.”